National: NBN Rollout in Regional Australia On the Home Stretch

The rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN) in Port Macquarie is reaching its final stage, with 98 per cent of households and businesses now able to use the service.

The NBN, whose rollout in the area began in February 2017, is now available to more than 38,900 homes and businesses in Port Macquarie. The expansion process had received backlash from the community due to the destruction of footpaths and public property in Port Macquarie CBD during the installation.

“With our aim to help bridge the digital divide and see all homes and businesses have access to fast broadband, we are proud today to announce the rollout of the NBN access network in Port Macquarie is on the home stretch,” said Amber Dornbusch, head of NBN for NSW and ACT.

NBN national spokesperson Philippa Perry said the NBN network will soon be available for all homes and businesses in regional Australia. “We have seen a massive improvement in regional internet access, more competition, faster speeds and in some cases giving internet access to some Australians for the first time ever,” Perry said.

NSW: Social Media Contributes to Youth Crime Decline, New Research Finds

The decline in youth crime in New South Wales may be related to the widespread use of social media and video streaming services, a research by the Australian National University (ANU) has found.

The ANU compared the NSW Police data of crime rates for people aged 10 to 21 born in 1984 and those born in 1994. It discovered that the proportion of the population who had come into contact with the criminal justice system had halved. Car theft was down 59 percent, while property theft and drunk-driving dropped by 59 and 49 percent respectively. Drug offending also fell 22 percent.

Criminologist Jason Payne said the decline may be attributed to changes in the way young people spend their time.

“We now have kids who are engaging much more often online, using mobile and other portable devices in the home and spending less time out on the street,” said Payne.

“An increased use of home entertainment and social media is also reducing opportunities for traditional forms of crime.”

However, Payne warned that the changing habits might lead to new forms of crime. “Those native to social media may explore antisocial and criminal behaviours online which at present attract far less scrutiny from parents and authorities.”

Budget 2018: What’s in Store for Education

Andrew Norton, Grattan Institute and Glenn C. Savage, University of Western Australia

It wasn’t a big budget for education this year, with schools funding already set in the last Budget, and the funding freeze for universities announced in the Federal Government’s mid-year budget update in December.

But the National Schools Chaplaincy program will become permanent, with A$247 million set aside over four years from 2018-19.

And there is some good news for students in regional, rural and remote areas, with:

  • A$96.1 million over four years for young people in regional, rural and remote communities to transition to further education, training and employment
  • A$14 million over four years for 185 Commonwealth Supported Places annually for students commencing a bachelor degree at university through a Regional Study Hub
  • A$53.9 million over four years to improve regional students’ access to youth allowance, and
  • A$123.6 million over five years to regional universities for additional Commonwealth Supported Places from 2017-18.
Mai Lam/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Schools and early education funding

Glenn Savage, Senior Lecturer in Education Policy and Sociology of Education at University of Western Australia

Despite ongoing political debates about school funding, most of the big news happened in last year’s budget, when the federal government formalised details associated with its Quality Schools reform package.

The package centres on a commitment to align school funding with the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) recommended in the 2011 Gonski report into school funding.

To achieve this, the government plans to progressively raise funding levels for government schools from 17% to 20% of the SRS and for private schools from 76.8% to 80% of the SRS by 2027.

The government argues that this delivers an additional $24.5 billion for Australian schools over the decade, and says it will be up to states as to whether they wish to fund the remaining amounts so that all schools reach the full SRS.

The government also claims its reform package provides more consistent needs-based funding when compared to the so-called “special deals” established under the Labor Gillard government.

Labor doesn’t agree, suggesting the Coalition is shortchanging the nation to the tune of A$17 billion (the initial claim was $22 billion) when compared to promises made by the former Gillard Labor government.

Labor has promised, if re-elected, to return to the Gillard model.

This ensures funding will be a defining issue at the next federal election, especially given last week’s Gonski 2.0 report has made a suite of recommendations that the federal government supports and could very well require an additional injection of federal funds to implement.

But any potential changes hinge on whether the Coalition is actually in power when next year’s budget is delivered. And, if so, whether it has any luck pursuing the new Gonski agenda with states and territories.

Aside from these ongoing Gonski wars, this year’s budget contains a few additional highlights.

Most controversial is A$247 million over four years to extend the National School Chaplaincy Program, which will have a new anti-bullying focus. The program was first introduced under the former Howard Coalition, but was subsequently dumped by Labor. It’s strongly supported by conservative backbenchers.

Other notables in this year’s budget include:

• A$440 million to extend the National Partnership Agreement on universal access to early childhood education for a further year.

• A$154 million to promote active and healthy living. This includes A$83 million to improve existing community sport facilities and expand the Sporting Schools and Local Sporting Champions programs.

• A$11.8 million over three years to expand the Early Learning Languages Australia program to more preschools and trial the program in 2019 and 2020 from the first year of school through to year two in primary schools.

• A$6 million over two years (from 2017-18) to continue and update the communications campaign to increase public awareness of changes to the Quality Schools package (aka public relations to sell the government’s reform package).

• A$1.3 million per year until 2020-21 to continued funding the MoneySmart Teaching program, designed to improve financial literacy education in schools.

• A$134.3 million over four years to the Northern Territory as part of the children and schooling component of the National Partnership Agreement on Northern Territory Remote Aboriginal Investment.

Finally, the government has signalled its intention to continue exploring ways to deliver new and diverse pathways into the teaching profession, with the view to increasing the supply of quality teachers. This measure builds on previous work associated with the Teach for Australia program.

To pursue this aim, the government has suggested it will invite proposals in 2018 from providers to deliver alternative pathways into teaching.

Higher education and VET funding

Andrew Norton, Program Director of Higher Education at Grattan Institute

Mai Lam/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

 

VET

The long aftermath of the VET FEE-HELP loan fiasco is still being felt in the 2018-19 Budget. The government is planning to spend A$36.2M over fours years for a new IT system to ensure compliance in the replacement VET Student Loans program.

The VET Student Loans Ombudsman, given the task of receiving student complaints about vocational education lending, is to receive another A$1 million to help deal with the large numbers of people making complaints.

Mai Lam/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

 

Higher education

Higher education’s big Budget news came early, in the December 2017 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO). It announced a two-year pause in tuition subsidy growth, and a range of reforms to the Higher Education Loan Program (HELP). There is no major change to these decisions in the 2018-19 Budget.

The pause in tuition subsidy growth has been implemented. It was done without going back to parliament using university funding agreements. For domestic bachelor degree places, universities will receive the same total amount that they received for 2017 for each of 2018 and 2019. Previously, there were “demand driven”, meaning that the Government would fund every student the universities enrolled.

This funding freeze means that universities won’t receive the value of inflation indexation to per student Commonwealth contributions, or Commonwealth contributions for any additional students they enrol above 2017 levels. But they will still receive indexed student contributions for all students they enrol.

The government has also used the funding agreements to reduce the number of Commonwealth-funded diploma, associate degree, and postgraduate coursework places. About 4,000 allocated places were abolished, but some of these weren’t being used anyway, so the practical effect may be limited.

Soon after these policies were announced, partial exceptions began with the University of Tasmania, the University of the Sunshine Coast and Southern Cross University all receiving additional places. These are confirmed in the Budget at a cost of A$124 million over five years.

In addition, the Budget has a new announcement of A$96 million over four years for nearly 700 extra student places for young people from regional areas. This is in response to the Independent Review into Regional, Rural and Remote Education.

Including the new places, funding on Commonwealth contributions through the Commonwealth Grant Scheme will be just over A$7 billion for 2018-2019.

From 2020, the government says it will resume funding increases based on population growth for universities that meet yet-to-be determined performance criteria. The Budget paper shows predicted spending of A$7.3 billion in 2020-21.

But numbers this far out are moot. With an election due in the next 12 months, and Labor indicating it will go back to demand driven funding, the funding freeze could be over by then. If the Coalition survives in office, it may also make substantial changes.

The other major MYEFO announcement was to the Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) loan scheme. Unlike changes to total tuition subsidy payments, these need legislating and the relevant bill is still before the Senate.

The most important proposed changes to HELP are the income thresholds determining whether, or how much, a HELP debtor needs to repay each year. If it passes, the bill would lower the initial repayment threshold from A$52,000 a year to A$45,000 a year. HELP debtors earning between A$45,000 and A$52,000 would repay 1% of their income. But some other thresholds are more generous than now, and many HELP debtors would end up paying less per year than they do now.

The government also originally proposed a A$100,000 lifetime cap on borrowing under HELP for all courses except medicine, dentistry and veterinary science, rather than just the full-fee student FEE-HELP scheme. The Budget confirms that the cap would be A$100,000 of HELP debt at any one time, allowing people who have paid off some debt to borrow again.

Whether HELP reforms eventually pass the Senate remains to be seen. In either case, it is fortunate for the higher education sector that they were not rejected prior to the May 2018 Budget. The freezing of the demand driven system showed the government was not bluffing when it said it needed to reduce higher education spending. Like the demand driven system, equity programs and some research programs are vulnerable to cuts the parliament cannot easily stop.

As it turns out, these programs survive in the Budget.

Research funding will receive a modest boost, with nearly A$400 million extra over five years for research infrastructure.

Although the higher education sector gets off lightly in the Budget compared to MYEFO, higher education providers will be hit with extra charges. The Government plans to charge them more for the services of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency.

The ConversationThe government also plans to charge higher education providers A$10 million a year to recover costs associated with HELP. We can only hope some of this is used to improve on the current very unsatisfactory public reporting of HELP’s finances.

Andrew Norton, Program Director, Higher Education, Grattan Institute and Glenn C. Savage, Senior Lecturer in Education Policy and Sociology of Education, and ARC DECRA Fellow (2016-19), University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

National: House Prices Continue to Fall in Sydney, Melbourne and Other Capital Cities

House prices slid in many of Australian state capitals in the end of April.

According to property data agency CoreLogic, Melbourne had the steepest weekly decline with 0.2 per cent, followed by Sydney and Brisbane with 0.1 per cent. So far in 2018, the home prices in all five mainland state capital cities have fallen, ranging from Brisbane’s 0.1 per cent to Sydney’s 2.1 per cent.

Many factors could be attributed to these drops, including the higher-than-usual supply of properties. Currently there are 26,879 homes for sale Sydney and 31,195 in Melbourne, indicating a 28.2 per cent and a 11.4 per cent increase from this time last year respectively. Weak household income growth and a decline in the number of foreign buyers also contributed to this weakness.

The amount of properties listed for sale in Sydney. Source: CoreLogic

NSW: Rose Bay Church Seeks to Redevelop into “Community Space” with Retail and Residential Space

A proposal has been unveiled to turn a 1905 church in Rose Bay into a “community gathering space” with retail spots and 10 apartments.

The plan, presented by the Uniting Head Church to Woollahra Council, sought to redevelop the church building on Old South Head Road and Dover Road into a mixed-use development with retail, residential, church and community space.

Indicative image of the development project. Source: Rose Bay Uniting Church

Andrew Gibbons from Endeavour Property Advisory, the development manager on the project, said, “The church came to me and said, ‘Look, the congregation doesn’t use the church anymore, we would like to maximise the use of it so that we can put the money into other missional use’.

“That’s why we’ve gone down this development path as opposed to selling it to a developer who would take all the profit out it and use it for its own use.”

The proposal included underground parking, ground-floor retail, and three-bedroom units to be sold at $3.5 million each. Should it be accepted, the project will commence construction in July next year.

The DA is on exhibition until mid-May.

National: Optus Pulls Job Ad Calling for ‘Anglo Saxon’ Candidates

Telecommunications giant Optus has called an investigation into an online job ad that called for “Anglo-Saxon” candidates at one of its Sydney stores.

The advert, which asked for casual retail consultant at Neutral Bay, said “candidates who are Anglo Saxon” are “preferred”. It has been removed since.

Vaughan Paul, Vice-President of Human Resources at Optus said the ad was “unacceptable” and not reflective of the company’s values.

“This error [is] a clear breach of our advertising standards and commitment to equal opportunity employment,” said Paul. “Optus proudly supports diversity and employs staff representing more than 70 nationalities.

“We… will be investigating how this occurred with a view to taking disciplinary action against those involved.”

However, the company still receives criticism from customers for the impropriety of the ad.

Ocean Heat Waves and Weaker Winds will Keep Australia Warm for A While Yet

Jonathan Pollock, Australian Bureau of Meteorology; Andrew B. Watkins, Australian Bureau of Meteorology, and Catherine Ganter, Australian Bureau of Meteorology

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s latest climate outlook, issued today, suggests the above-average warmth of April is likely to extend into May, and for parts of the south, potentially into winter.

The outlooks for May temperatures show that both days and nights are likely to be warmer than average for much of Australia. Only northeast Queensland is likely to miss out on warmer temperatures, with no strong push there towards warmer or cooler conditions.

The unseasonable warmth, which has broken records in Adelaide and Sydney, appears to be driven by high ocean temperatures, and weaker westerly winds and much lower than average soil moisture across southern Australia.

Bureau of Meteorology

The rainfall outlook for May is mixed, but generally shows no strong shift towards a wetter or drier month for most of Australia.


Read more:
Winter heatwaves are nice … as extreme weather events go


By June the tendency for warmer than normal days may start to wane. This easing of the outlook for above average temperatures as we head into winter is reflected in the full May-July outlook, with only some parts of southern Australia likely to be warmer than average. Southern parts of Western Australia and South Australia have a moderate chance of warmer than average daytime temperatures, with stronger odds over southern Victoria.

The full May to July outlook shows a more balanced picture, with southern Australia more likely to experience higher than average temperatures.
Bureau of Meteorology

Odds don’t favour a strong push towards a particularly wet or dry three months for much of Australia, apart from some areas in the far southeast.

What’s behind the warmth?

The El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) are two of Australia’s major climate drivers. ENSO is currently in a neutral phase, meaning its neither El Niño nor La Niña. Our outlooks suggest it is likely to stay neutral leading into winter.


Read more:
Explainer: El Niño and La Niña


The IOD is also neutral, and most models suggest it will remain so over the coming months.

But given it is harder to forecast ENSO and the IOD in autumn compared to other times of the year, climatologists will be monitoring Indian and Pacific Ocean temperature patterns closely as we edge towards winter.

With near-average temperature patterns in the tropical oceans to our east and west, there is no strong shift in the outlook towards widespread wetter or drier conditions for Australia.

Rainfall during May is expected to remain essentially average.
Bureau of Meteorology

However, for temperatures it’s a little different. Sure ENSO and the IOD are playing a minor role right now, but other factors are coming into play.


Read more:

 

The BOM outlook for the weather over the next three months is ‘neutral’ – here’s what that really means


Ocean heat waves

Ocean temperatures in the Tasman Sea and around New Zealand are much warmer than average – in fact at record levels in the past few months – and are expected to remain warm over the coming months. These warm sea temperatures are associated with a large area of lower than usual air pressure to Australia’s east, which is likely to weaken the westerly winds that normally bring cooler air to southern Australia in autumn and winter.

Another factor in the current and forecast warmth is the very much below average soil moisture across southern Australia. With little moisture available to evaporate and cool the air, and the soils themselves not able to store as much heat, the air above the ground heats more rapidly in the daytime.

Bureau of Meteorology

 

In addition to our natural climate drivers, Australian climate patterns are being influenced by the long-term trend in global air and ocean temperatures. Winter maximum temperatures have increased by 1℃ over the past century, with three of the top five warmest winters in the past 108 years occurring since 2009. Oceans around Australia have warmed by slightly more, with four of our top five warmest years since 2010.

The ConversationSo while the normal big two drivers of our climate remain benign, it would actually be wrong to assume there will be a quick return to more average temperatures. The outlook released today suggests we may have to wait at least another month until service returns to normal for much of the country.

Jonathan Pollock, Climatologist, Australian Bureau of Meteorology; Andrew B. Watkins, Manager of Long-range Forecast Services, Australian Bureau of Meteorology, and Catherine Ganter, Senior Climatologist, Australian Bureau of Meteorology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Technology: New 4D Printer Unveiled

A team of researchers have developed a 4D printer, a progress that promises to bring changes in aerospace, medicine and other industries.

The 4D printer is able to print 3D objects which can change shape after exposure to heat, humidity and/or light, and then revert back to its original form. Furthermore, whereas most commercial printers can only print 4D structures in one material only, the new printer is able to bring together different varieties.

The team presented its creation at the National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) late March.

“We are on the cusp of creating a new generation of devices that could vastly expand the practical applications for 3-D and 4-D printing,” said team leader H Jerry Qi, who is also a professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

“Our prototype printer integrates many features that appear to simplify and expedite the processes used in traditional 3-D printing.

“As a result, we can use a variety of materials to create hard and soft components at the same time, incorporate conductive wiring directly into shape-changing structures, and ultimately set the stage for the development of a host of 4-D products that could reshape our world.”

The team is currently working with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to find out the technology’s suitability for printing prosthetic hands in children with malformed arms.

“Only a small group of children have this condition, so there isn’t a lot of commercial interest in it and most insurance does not cover the expense,” Qi said. “But these children have a lot of challenges in their daily lives, and we hope our new 4D printer will help them overcome some of these difficulties.”

The printer, which was funded by HP, the National Science Foundation, the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and Northrop Grumman, cost approximately US$350,000 to build, Qi revealed.

The creation received positive response at the meeting. “We just had a conversation where we were dreaming of that kind of machine,” said Geoff Spinks, materials engineering professor at the University of Wollongong. “I’d imagine in the near future we might have 16 different types of printheads, or even more.”

National: Microsoft to Train 5,000 Australian Public Servants in Cloud Computing

Microsoft has pledged to train 5,000 Australian public workers in cloud services by 2020.

The company announced the project to support the Australian government’s Secure Cloud Strategy initiative, which emphasises the modernisation and digital transformation of the public sector through cloud computing.

Microsoft expected 800 workers to participate in the program in the next three months, with a goal of reaching 2,000 by the year 2020.

The program, which is to be conducted by Microsoft as well as DDLS, New Horizons and Advanced Training, covers workers across the public sector in six cities, namely Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Canberra, Adelaide and Brisbane. The courses are based on Microsoft’s Azure cloud services.

“This training promises organisational agility, better delivery of services and faster insights from government data, which will help transform the Australian public sector by providing a better experience for citizens,” said Microsoft Australia managing director Steven Worrall.

“Migrating from legacy platforms to the cloud is not trivial, so the specialised program we have put together will equip public sector developers and system engineers with cloud-ready skills to design and build digital solutions and deliver their agency transformation initiatives.”

National: Negative Gearing Should Favor Lower Income Property Investors, Says Report

Excluding richer property investors from negative gearing can help improve housing affordability, according to a report coming out today.

In a research released today, the Australian Housing & Urban Research Institute (AHURI) said negative gearing reforms that prioritise ordinary “mum and dad investors” could save the federal government $1.7 billion.

A proposed model suggests denying the top quarter of income earners any deductions from rental losses, while the bottom half could continue receiving 100 per cent deductions.

The researchers also propose a reduction of capital gains tax discount to limit negative gearing activities and reduce inequities between higher and lower income investors.

Another option the report models is capping negative gearing deductions to up to $40,000.

“Current negative gearing policies are heavily skewed towards high-income earners, raising concerns about the extent to which these policies exacerbate income and wealth inequality in Australia,” said Alan Duncan, Curtin University economics professor and co-writer of the report.

The negative gearing tax breaks policy has been blamed for the surge in housing prices in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. The Labor party has advocated for limitation of negative gearing to only new properties and reduction of CGT discount to 25 per cent, but the Turnbull government said the opposition’s proposals would jeopardise the property market.

The report follows Grattan Institute’s review released on Sunday, which found that housing affordability can be improved by cutting CGT discount, getting rid of negative gearing, and building extra 50,000 homes per year.